Ginger Nuts of Horror
Not sure if this was a 99p deal or free for a limited period, or who recommended it. Some journalist I am. I know I was already Facebook friends with James prior to reading, and I also know this was my first encounter with his work.
It will not be my last.
The Shelter is a deft exercise in short form storytelling – falling in that twilight zone between short story and novella, the kind of length that you basically never saw outside an anthology or collection, prior to the rise of the e-book.
The story is told in flashback, to a summer holiday and an unhappy bunch of childhood – well, 'friends', I suppose, though it's clear from the outset that there's an unpleasant power dynamic at work. It's one of many superb touches in the story, actually – that awkward teen/pre-teen cusp period when age and perceived maturity or cool factor can lead vulnerable lads to hang out with people they know are not good for them – worse, treat them with contempt.
As the story is told in flashback, some of this is told explicitly, but as much is implied from the way the kids interact, and I felt more than once the twinge of uncomfortable recognition at depicted relationships. I think it takes a real talent to so completely recall childhood with this level of clarity and authenticity, and bring it to life on the page.
The horror elements of the tale are similarly well handled – the title alone gives us sufficient foreshadowing that the impromptu field trip to the abandoned air raid shelter is unlikely to end well. The way the tensions build within the group as the story develops is conveyed smartly, and creates a very effective sense of dread. There's a subtlety to it, and real skill, and I found myself feeling deeply troubled before the kids even reached their destination.
Given the length of the piece, I will discuss the plot no further except to say that it didn't disappoint at all. In fact, I would thoroughly recommend this slice of rural childhood horror to anyone for whom that premise even remotely appeals. It's a first rate story, with vividly realised, achingly real characters, and a superb example of how to handle subtle build tension and horror. Elements of King's IT, but at the same time a distinct UK voice and very much an original tale in it's own right. I don't have much higher praise than that.